Episode 18 has the January writing prompt!

Episode 18 is live! Show notes are here. In it we read through our December writing prompt responses, and then we introduce our January prompt, which is to browse some CV or resume pages, find one person, and write about their job interview experience. It’s adapted from the helpful book Writer With a Day Job, by Áine Greaney.

We’d love to hear your responses.  Send your response and let us know if you want us to share it on the air!

Continue Reading

Is it too late to follow my writing dreams?

Did you read this advice column by Roxane Gay in the New York Times? The one that says this:

The older I get, the more I have to say and the better I am able to express myself. There is no age limit to finding artistic success. Sometimes it happens at 22 and sometimes it happens at 72 and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. No, you are not too old to have a writing career, no matter your age.

I did read it, and then forgot it completely (I haven’t been online much the past couple weeks). And then one of our listeners sent it to me again, and reminded me that I wanted to write about it.

In the conversations Meghan and I have – on the podcast but especially off – we often talk about feeling like we have started late, or that particular nostalgia-for-what-never-was feeling (there must be a German word for that) of reading about a writer who is 22 and accomplished and amazing. That feeling that makes you feel like it’s not worth trying.

Which, of course, logically: what?? First of all, we aren’t old. Second, if it took me 70 years to tell a really good story, that would also be okay. But a lot of celebrity writing culture glorifies the young writers. Every year, it seems, an entire generation of new writers is born, at age 20-whatever, and they are breathlessly hailed as the “new [insert famous writer here, like Nabokov or Roth or whoever].”

(By the way, that is also completely okay. It’s awesome if you figure out what you want to say and how to say it when you’re 20-whatever, and I love being in awe of so many talented people.)

One part I liked of the column was this: “The writing world was passing me by.” Because that’s what it does feel like, right? That there is a writing world, and they don’t even know you want to get in, and if they did, they’d completely laugh in your face.

That’s why I especially liked her advice, which was to measure your success in a way that doesn’t depend on other people, on the people in the writing world (we could call it a writing bubble):

Sometimes, success is getting a handful of words you don’t totally hate on the page. Sometimes success is working a full-time job to support your family and raising your kids and finding a way, over several years, to write and finish a novel.

Let’s all just chant her last line to ourselves and each other every day this year:

You are not a late bloomer. You are already blooming.

Continue Reading

Ground, Receive, Flow, Ground – a yoga sequence for creative flow

This is a guest post from our Episode 14 interviewee, Divya Kohli of Yoga With Divya (London). We asked her to share a yoga sequence for creativity, and she has really come through with this one. It can be done slowly or more flow-y, but give yourself a minimum of 10 minutes – 15-20 is optimal – to get through it. 

Here’s Divya’s post:

 

Ground, Receive, Flow, Ground:
Ready to Write!

Yoga practice can help ground restless or scattered energy, including dealing with procrastination! Postures with deeper breathing can open our physical and imaginative centres. Sequencing of certain postures will literally ignite our internal energy – including creativity – and get it to flow. Conscious engagement with our breath can set up a steadiness of mind and clearer outlook.

Here is a sequence I’ve put together to ground, open up, release and then re-ground, taking you to a place where you feel centred and ready to engage in writing flow. Ideal preparation for when you want to get creative; but also a grounding sequence for anytime you feel a need for that.

Sequence credit: Yoga with Divya

Photo credits:  pictures are the original creations of illustrator and senior Yoga Teacher Bobby Clennell, apart from the last photo, taken of Divya while engaged in Alternate Nostril breathing.


Virasana (Hero) pose, with block

Kneel on all fours, put a block or fold a blanket and place between your heels and ankles, sit back onto the block, press the tops of your feet and toes evenly into the ground.

Now sit tall, lengthening the crown of your head upward and sense it’s poised above the tailbone. Feel even weight between both sitting bones.

Relax palms of hands up or down on the thighs.

If you feel pain or strain, add another block or raise the height under the hips to lessen tension on the back and knees. You can also place padding under the feet if there is strain there.


Ujjayi, (Victorious) Breath

After a few moments, start to connect to your breath as it is. Find it and follow it with awareness, how it’s flowing or not, wherever it’s moving to or not moving to.  Spend around a minute following your breath.

Then relax.

Take a deliberate fuller breath in and then out.

Take your attention back to your breath and start to cultivate Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath), often referred to as the ‘Ocean Wave’ breath as it sounds like an ocean wave rising and falling in the distance. Channel your breath along the back of your throat (where you vocal chords are), it will feel like you are filtering the breath as you inhale and exhale through the nose, mouth stays closed. Develop a smooth, no grasping rhythm and soft ‘hushed’ sound.

Stay here for 2 to 3 minutes.

Then relax and absorb the benefits.
If your knees or back ache, stretch out the legs while you relax and absorb the benefits. Or even lie down your back with your knees bent and observe for a while.

Maryjasana & Bitilasana, Cat & Cow movement

Come onto all Fours – stretch one leg back at time, from hip to toes.

Then return to all Fours.

On an inhale, tilt the tailbone up and send the heart through the arms, allowing for the spine to concave (Cow); as you exhale, draw the third eye (forehead) and tailbone in towards each other, curving the spine upwards (Cat).

Take a few rounds, synchronising breath and movement.

Allow for any neck releasing movements, and for circling the hips if that feels releasing.

 

 


Ardho Mukha Virasana (Resting Dog)

Sit back on your heels and stretch your arms out, allow the head to naturally low.

A great stretch for the whole body and particularly helpful with opening the back, regulating the kidneys (said to be ‘the seat of wellbeing’), stretching the stomach (to release tension and allow better flow of breath), and releasing tension from the hips, shoulders and head.

Stay for as long you like.

You can place head and arms on a bolster/cushion or block for added support.

 

Ardho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing Dog)

To stretch the whole body, engages every muscle and joint and helps to calm the mind.

Totally fine to have the knees bent if the legs don’t straighten, or if that helps lessen rounding in the spine, or both.

Stay for 1-2 minutes.

Stay less time if feeling stiff or tired; in which case, move in and out of the pose by moving into Child Pose when needing a breather.

 

Balasana (Child) Post, regroup, release the back and shoulders

Like Resting Dog pose, only place the arms by the side, reaching back, with the palms up.

Head on the mat, or supported.

Take at least one minute here, tuning into the natural flow of the breath.

 

Surya Namaskarasana (Sun Salutations)

A classic flow sequence, hundreds of years’ old and practised by millions every day in the world as a vehicle for waking up the body, engaging every muscle and joint, and getting our Prana (internal energy, which is a mix of our consciousness and the energy of life) to flow to every part of our body.

This version keeps things simple – not much to have to remember.

Try for 3 rounds – or up to 5 if you have the time and energy.

Alternatives:

  • When lowering to the floor, feel free to lower the knees first, then the chest, then the whole body.
  • When pressing up to the floor, feel free to keep the knees and hips down on the earth.

 

 

Supported Setu Bandasana (Bridge, or… Heart Over a Roll)

Set up a yoga bolster, and a folded blanket in front. If you don’t have a yoga bolster, or one to hand, a rolled up blanket will be perfect too. Or a couple of cushions (one on to of the other) is just fine too. If you don’t have a blanket to support the head, just ensure whatever you’re using to lean back over isn’t too high so your neck and head can relax back without strain.

Sit on the support (bolster/blanket/cushion), slowly slide the legs away, and recline back, supporting the head just before it hits the blanket or earth if not using blanket.

Let the arms fall to the side, tuck the shoulder blades down the back and send the tailbone away towards to the feet.

Settle in. Ensure there is no pain. If the lower back is not happy, bend the legs and keep the flat on the earth.

Aim for at least 3 minutes, 5 is ideal for the nervous system to chill and regulate itself. This posture and set up is also great at opening the chest, releasing fear and stagnation, and relieving stiffness from the back and hips.

 

Savasana (Corpse pose)

After carefully sliding out of the Supported Bridge pose, roll onto your back.

Support your head with a folded blanket or pillow if that makes your head, neck and shoulders feel more comfortable.

Let the legs roll out, arms fall out.

Settle in.

Absorb all the effects of your practice, relax and let go.

If the mind is busy or goes into planning mode, let your attention rest on the gentle unforced rise of the belly as you inhale and exhale.

Aim for 3 – 5 minutes, 5 minutes is optimal.

Whatever time available, try not to skip Savasana as it’s when you’ll absorb all the benefits of the practice. Plus it takes at least 3 minutes for your body’s muscles and joints to let go of any tension residing there. 5 minutes is optimal.

From Corpse pose, stretch, sigh, yawn, let the neck roll to one side, then the other, then slowly bring the knees into the chest, roll to your right side, and carefully press yourself up without tensing the neck.

Bring yourself into any comfortable seat.

 

Nadi Shodana (Alternate Nostril breathing)

If you want to prop your back against a support (back of a chair, sofa, bed or put a cushion there) that is fine. Otherwise, any comfortable seat (for example, Sukhasana, Cross legged, or Vajrasana, sitting on the heels, or even siting on a chair with an upright spine).

Take one hand up to the face, and place the index and middle finger (second and third fingers) on the bridge of the nose. Breathe in and out through both nostrils.

Breath in to and out again, and close off your right nostril with your thumb at the end of the exhale.

Breath in through the left nostril for the count of 4, then close the left nostril with your ring finger (fourth finger), release the thumb from the right nostril and exhale through the right for 4. Inhale through the right for 4, release the ring finger and exhale through the left for 4. This is one round.

Repeat.

Aim for 3 minutes.

If breathing in and out for 4 is hard to maintain, drop to 3. Or up to 5 or 6 if the breath is naturally flowing for longer and you can sustain that count without strain.

Finish up by exhaling through the left nostril.

Rest both hands on your legs or lap.

Relax.

Breath naturally through both nostrils for a few rounds.

Relax.

Sit quietly for a few moments with however you feel.

Before moving out of the practice, bow to your heart and offer gratitude to something, or someone that you feel thankful for in that moment.

Stretch out the legs, and now you’re ready for whatever you want to focus on next…

 

Tips:

Go at your own pace.

Use a timer on your phone or a clock.

Enjoy it, rather than striving to get deeper in the poses.

Don’t beat yourself up over how you do the postures or breathing, and try not to evaluate your practice!

If time is short, you can flow this entire sequence in as little as 10 minutes (spend less time in Savasana and on the Nadhi Shodana).

Otherwise, 15 or 20 minutes is ideal for this sequence.

 

Finally, do go to Yoga class – real contact with a teacher cannot be matched online.

In Peace, Divya x

Continue Reading

The NaNoWriMo launch post

Happy Halloween everyone!

In yesterday’s episode, we had a little mini-debate on NaNoWriMo, which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a first draft of a novel, or 50,000 words.

All three of us on the show – Meghan, Olivia and Ayanna – have attempted NaNo before, and none of us have done the full 50k words – or “won,” in the terms of the organizers (we’ll come back to that in a second). We had a bit of a debate on the show, about the ambivalence that all of us feel about this.

On one hand, Olivia found the collectivity and community really inspirational last year – it was the first time that she had really started writing almost every day. It was a great motivator to wake up early, to have a routine, but also to have a group of people doing it at the same time. In other words, you could say that NaNo last year did what this podcast is doing this year – linking her up with other writers and their routines. So even though she didn’t write 50k words, she wrote a lot, and she liked it.

Meghan and Ayanna struggle with their perfectionism because of some of the language around winning and the quantitative goal.

Here’s the thing, right? You don’t have to do the whole 50k words. I know, this is a sort of rebel approach, but we decided that, for both Olivia and Meghan, we need to set our own goals that are focused on drawing on the community – but also being realistic about the demands of our schedules.

Olivia’s goal? To write 20k words. (Last month, she did 12k of a 15k goal, so this is a stretch but not impossible.)

And Meghan’s? To participate in the community, cheer people on, and keep up the schedule and routine that is working for her – without putting additional pressure on herself.

We’re using the metaphor of a marathon race: you can still show up, but maybe you need to run the 5k or 10k or half marathon, if you’re not ready for the full marathon. And sometimes (like I did this past weekend), you are just cheering for the runners – and that’s really important, too.

So, where can you find us? 

We have started a forum in the writing club section, specifically about the Marginally thing – writing when you have a day job. Please join us there!

You can also add us as buddies: Here’s Olivia’s NaNo profile, and Meghan’s profile.

Finally, we will also be following, lurking and commenting in various fora, but especially:

  • Olivia’s genre, thriller/suspense has a forum
  • Our age group has a forum (it’s suitably wide so not giving anything away here)
  • We love the NaNo Rebels page – all different types of goals, genres and everything else (we’ll be here a lot)
  • Meghan will be doing a 6:30 am EST sprint most mornings — check this thread for the daily link

We’ll post more as we go on.

We’d love to hear from you: are you doing NaNo? Why, or why not? What’s your goal?

Continue Reading

Inspiration week! Olivia’s writing music

I loved talking about week inspiration and motivation on the podcast this week. This is one of my favorite topics because it means I get to go back to the things that make me excited to write, and read or listen to them again. It’s a good way just to start noticing what is working for you – and maybe what isn’t.

This morning, while writing, I noticed how much I was loving Bill Evans’s album Everybody Digs Bill Evans – a great album. When that finished, I went on to Bonobo, a totally different type of music, but the album Migration really gets me into a good writing place. It’s a mix of melodic and some beats that make me feel cheerful and creative. Lately, I’ve also been writing to Philip Glass’s Piano Works, and before that I just listened to Mendelsohn’s Songs Without Words on repeat.

I can’t write to music with words (although I can listen to mellow and folky music at my day job). In college, I played through an old CD of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture – the one with the yellow label on the front and a canon – literally hundreds of times to write a paper in college. It also had a couple other Russian composers; I guess that was helpful for all my Slavic Studies classes.

(As an aside, I have started to feel sort of annoyed at how many playlists I have been listening to, curated or automated by Spotify, and am trying to consciously listen to albums. Have you ever felt that? I just feel like I’m not really listening to music anymore – more like I am just sitting in a lobby with random music on. I like the wholeness of an album. But maybe that just makes me super old.)

All that is to say, music is one of those things that can make a big difference in my motivation/inspiration to work.

And, despite having said all the above about playlists, I have a playlist of music I work to here on Spotify, if anyone’s interested. I like following other actual humans’ playlists; probably my favorite is Teju Cole’s Jetlag playlists, although he is in general a good music curator.

We’d love to hear your favorite writing music!

Continue Reading

Rituals, the brain … and writing

I’ve read a lot about rituals and how important they are when you’re doing creativity. There’s a lot out there about how the muse will only show up if you actually put your ass in the chair and wait for her. In fact, I think, if you’ve only got a very short amount of time to write or be creative (like all of us day-job-workers), then this is even important: we need our muse to show up on time, right?

And yet, if I’m honest, I think something in me is somewhat resistant to the idea that I need to make a special ceremony for my muse. Like, why isn’t it there already?? Maybe there’s something wrong with my muse? Maybe my will for the muse isn’t strong enough to summon her, etc.

So I was sort of encouraged to read this post about how rituals affect our brains. It’s a very scientific explanation of how that whole “put your ass in the chair” thing works: we perform better when we have a ritual.

Well, if science proves it, I guess I can let myself and my muse off the hook and start doing what the scientists tell me to. I am going to work on a ritual – nothing too intricate, but something to get me going in the morning. As we are heading into autumn/winter, I’m thinking my ritual should involve candles and maybe wonderful tea.

What does your writing ritual involve?

We’d love to hear from you, especially because next week’s podcast is about inspiration, motivation – and I think a big part of that is making it easy to stay motivated. A ritual can be a big part of it.

Continue Reading

Putting it all together

editing in greece  We’re hard at work on wrapping up editing for Episode 1 — where we talk about what we mean by margins — and prepping to record Episode 2 — day jobs. It’s been fun to learn something completely new, and we’re already racking up the lessons and lists of what not to do.

It turns out that recording a conversation is way different from working from a word-for-word script, like we had for our trailer episode. Both of us have plenty of experience with public speaking — we give presentations and teach workshops as part of our day jobs — so it’s not hard to work from notes and keep the ideas moving. What is hard is recording a second take!

We expected a technical learning curve, and have been happy to discover while it’s time consuming, it’s not so difficult we need to consult sound engineers. Hooray for the internet and the kind people who’ve posted podcasting how-tos!

But the biggest part of our process has been what’s part of our larger conversation — how to fit it in? We live 7 hours apart and don’t have flexible schedules, so just finding time to sit down with each other to chat is a real testament to our friendship each week (it means either I get up before dawn, or Olivia stays up past her bedtime). The great thing about it is we do make time to sit down each week and chat — and it’s worth every hour of lost sleep.

The time difference works in our favor in other ways. Because we’re more or less a workday apart, we could preeeetty much post to Instagram non-stop. Of course, that’s counter to our writing and work goals, so we don’t, but it would be pretty awesome. We also end up being able to tag-team the post-recording editing, since our periods of free time don’t overlap.

Bottom line is, we’re excited to give you Episode 1 (working title: In the Margins) on Monday — maybe we should have covered day jobs instead, for a Labor Day special. We hope you’re as excited to tune in.

Continue Reading

Facing the blank page

blank page in a notebookYou know how writing in a new notebook, on that first page, is super hard? I always just skip the first page and then I’m writing on the second page, and then I can move on. Or write something witty on that second page about how I don’t want to write on the first page.

Anyway, we can’t do that on the blog – you always have to write the first post. No getting around it; it just has to be done. So consider this post, to some degree, as an almost-blank first page.

It’s been really difficult to start this project and this blog that we’ve been talking about for weeks. Before this, we swapped productivity tips and photos of to-do lists with ease. Now that the blank screen is staring me in the face, I’ll just start with three things we’ve learned as writers who have full-on day jobs and lives – all of which could be a podcast episode or two on their own.

First, in order to do this writer-with-a-day-job thing, you need a routine. Or at least we do. I’m naturally a night owl – I was since I was a kid. But my day job requires me to be in the office at a certain time, but doesn’t necessarily release me on time. So mornings are my best bet for fresh, clear thinking, and I write better when I can move from dreams to writing without interruption from the news, facts and social media.

Second, we’ve found it useful to plan in advance. When I have longer chunks of time to just write freely, knowing precisely what I need to write is not so important. But if I have 1 to 1.5 hours in the morning, I need to have a scene or a direction that I can resume and keep going with.

Third, you can’t do it all – priorities matter. If I’m writing intensively, every day, it means I need to go to bed, that I can’t go out with friends every night, and sometimes it means I don’t exercise or run as much as might when I’m not writing. I also don’t hole myself up in my house every day without meeting other humans because social activity is also important. It’s about prioritizing your writing but also having a balance, and figuring out what’s best for you.

Last, it’s a lifelong journey. No routine or system is perfect. When I hold too tightly to my existing routine, I can sometimes feel brittle or like I’m sacrificing everything either for my work or for my book. At the same time, I won’t find the perfect routine that will make me a writer unless I just freaking sit down and write.

What have you learned on your writing-and-working journey? We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Continue Reading